When I was much younger, I stopped reading any type of book that fell under the frightening category. These could fall under any genre such as true crime (Helter Skelter. Fact: In college I knew a kid whose house had been “creepy-crawled” by the Manson Family. They had been neighbors of the LaBiancas). Anything related to the Holocaust (Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz) and, of course, horror. At the time I was prone to realistic nightmares and I made it a rule to never read anything scary after 8:00 pm when it was dark and I was alone because in my mind it seemed I was never alone. The walls had ears, there were wicked spirits hiding in dark corners waiting to grab me and do me harm.
That fear finally waned and now I can read a scary story and get my heart skipping a few fearful beats without any consequence. If I have nightmares they’re never so frightening to wake me. In truth the only fear I have at the moment is a Romney/Ryan administration. But’s that’s an entirely different story and should it happen, we’ll have something to write about here on To Be Read.
In honor of Halloween and in case you’re not out trick-or-treating of going to a party, but want to settle in with candy and chilling book to read here are five spooky stories that we recommend:
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
The story starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories ’round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don’t know what she’s talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children’s uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers.
The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty
When originally published in 1971, The Exorcist became not only a bestselling literary phenomenon, but one of the most frightening and controversial novels ever written. (When the author adapted his book to the screen two years later, it then became one of the most terrifying movies ever made.) The deceptively simple story focuses on Regan, the 11-year-old daughter of a movie actress residing in Washington, D.C.; the child apparently is possessed by an ancient demon. It is up to Regan’s mother and overwhelmed yet determined priests to somehow rescue Regan from this unspeakable fate. Purposefully raw and profane, this novel still has the extraordinary ability to literally shock us into forgetting that it is “just a story.”
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers-and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
It, by Stephen King
Moving back and forth between 1958 and 1985, the story tells of seven children in a small Maine town who discover the source of a series of horrifying murders. Having conquered the evil force once, they are summoned together 27 years later when the cycle begins again. The requisite thrills are in abundance, and King’s depiction of youngsters is extraordinarily accurate and sympathetic.
The Shining, by Stephen King
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, his uniquely gifted five-year-old son.